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Trump says “collusion is not a crime.” Not quite.

The president has a point. But there’s more to it than he’s letting on.

President Donald Trump says “collusion is not a crime” in a tweet on July 31, 2018.
President Donald Trump says “collusion is not a crime” in a tweet on July 31, 2018.
Chris McGrath/Getty Images

President Donald Trump has a new argument to defend against allegations that his campaign worked with Russia to win the 2016 presidential election.

“Collusion is not a crime,” Trump tweeted on Tuesday morning, “but that doesn’t matter because there was No Collusion.” The president’s tweet comes just one day after his lawyer Rudy Giuliani made the same case during various TV appearances on Monday.

Let’s be really clear about what Trump is saying now: He and his team didn’t collude with Russia to win the White House — but even if they did, it wouldn’t be a crime.

Well, there’s sort of a point to that.

Set aside for a moment whether or not the Trump campaign partnered with Russia in some way and let’s focus solely on the “collusion is not a crime” bit. Trump and Giuliani can fairly argue that the US legal code doesn’t say anything specific about election collusion. So one could argue that collusion, on its own, is not exactly a crime.

So is Trump off the hook, even if special counsel Robert Mueller concludes he colluded with Moscow in some way?

No. Not even close.

It’s still possible Mueller will find that the Trump campaign committed crimes that fall under the US legal code, such as a conspiracy to defraud the United States. Working with a foreign power to sway an election would almost certainly qualify under that statute.

But that’s not all: There are also laws against election fraud, hacking, and even wire fraud. As Vox’s Ezra Klein noted last year, there’s already tons of evidence pointing in the collusion direction, and it could involve some of these crimes. Here are a few examples:

  1. Russia stole Democratic emails.
  2. At least one Trump adviser, George Papadopoulos, knew of the theft in advance and lied about it.
  3. Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager, was a paid operative of a Russia-linked political party in Ukraine.
  4. In June 2016, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Manafort met with a Russian operative who promised them dirt on Hillary Clinton.
  5. In July 2016, Trump publicly asked the Russian government to find and release other emails Clinton deleted.
  6. Russians released emails to help Trump, planted fake news and social media bots to help Trump, and tried to hack election systems in 21 states.
  7. After being elected president, Trump fired the director of the FBI to try to end his investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election.

It’s unclear if the Trump campaign did any of this in a coordinated way with the Kremlin, of course.

But if they did, those accused couldn’t just say, “No collusion!” and be off the hook. Instead, they’d likely have to defend themselves in court — not on TV or Twitter.